Central Vietnam: a month in tragedies

e.vnexpress November 3, 2020 | 10:28 am GMT+7

In just a month, central Vietnam got struck by three floods, four storms and a series of landslides that claimed 159 lives and left 71 missing.

On October 4, provinces from Thanh Hoa to Quang Ngai along the central strip of Vietnam recorded heavy rains due to a combination of a cold spell moving down from the north and winds from the east. After months of drought, rains brought joy to the people of central Vietnam. But little did they know the rain in fact signaled a streak of consecutive disasters.

The next day, an intertropical convergence zone was formed, stretching from the Bay of Bengal across central Vietnam to the Philippines.

The zone brought more torrential downpours to the region, flooding many parts over several days. Then, with the convergence of strong winds moving over warm seawater, a tropical depression formed into a storm on the East Sea, also known as the South China Sea.

On October 11, Storm Linfa intensified from a tropical depression and made landfall over Quang Nam and Quang Ngai. A day later, Storm Nangka hit the coast between northern Thai Binh and central Thanh Hoa provinces.

A residential area in Thua Thien-Hue Province is submerged under flood water, October 10, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh
A residential area in Thua Thien-Hue Province is submerged under flood water, October 10, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh.

The amount of rain that fell from October 6 to 13 was two to six times higher than normal.

Ha Tinh Province received 150-400 mm during this period, Quang Binh 400-500 mm, Quang Tri 800-1,500 mm, Thua Thien Hue 1,300-2,000 mm, Da Nang City 1,100 mm, Quang Nam 900-1,200 mm, and Quang Ngai 600-800 mm. Rainfall of 180 mm a day is considered heavy.

In this period, more than 130,000 houses, mostly in Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue provinces had been flooded, with some submerged by four meters.

Streak of tragedies

Around 3 a.m. on October 8, cargo vessel Vietship 01 of a Hanoi-based logistics firm was swept away by floods and rough seas as it docked at Cua Viet Port in Quang Tri.

The ship had 12 male crew members on board when swept off. Four crew members who had fallen from the vessel made it safely to shore on October 9 and 10. One member, aged 45, had also jumped into the water but went missing before his body was retrieved on October 11.

Heavy rains, strong winds and rough seas derailed rescue efforts and the vessel sank to the bottom in shallow waters, leaving the rest of the crew and one fisherman, part of a rescue squad, stranded at sea.

It took rescue teams three days to reach the stranded vessel.

“It was difficult for modern vessels to reach the stranded ship so we had to rely on rudimentary boats and experienced fishermen for the mission,” explained Colonel Le Van Phuong, head of Quang Tri Border Guard.

On the morning of October 11, the fisherman and a crew member jumped into the water and battled their way back through the rough seas and strong waves. Two teams of rescuers rushed to deliver them safely to shore.

A military helicopter and its crew brave strong winds and rough seas as they lift crew members of Vietship 01 up from the shipAs the rescue mission took place, storm Linfa was heading straight to the central region. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy
A military helicopter and its crew brave strong winds and rough seas as they lift crew members of Vietship 01 up from the ship. As the rescue mission took place, storm Linfa was heading to the central region. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Within the same day, a military helicopter was sent to the scene to rescue the remaining six crew members stuck on the vessel. Two days after he was rescued, however, ship captain Nguyen Van Bao, 51, passed away due to multiple organ failure and sepsis.

At midnight on October 12, a hill collapsed onto an operation center of Rao Trang 3 Hydropower Plant, located deep in a jungle of Phong Xuan Commune, Phong Dien District in Thua Thien-Hue.

The landslide buried 17 workers after 40 others escape to a nearby plant, called Rao Trang 4.

The story of the 17 workers is even more tragic since a 21-member rescue team that had set out to verify reports of their predicament got struck by the same calamity.

At midnight the next day, a landslide had buried the ranger station housing the entire rescue team. Only eight members managed to escape, with the remaining 13 confirmed dead, including Major General Nguyen Van Man, deputy commander of the 4th Military Region of Vietnam People’s Army. The bodies of the 13 victims have all been found and identified, though only five of the 17 workers’ bodies have been retrieved.

Functional forces and service dogs search for workers of Rao Trang 3 hydropower plant that had been missing after a landslide, October 26, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Van An
Functional forces and service dogs search for workers of Rao Trang 3 Hydropower Plant that had been missing after a landslide, October 26, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Van An.

During funeral procedures for the 12 soldiers and their deputy commander, another landslide struck a barracks housing 27 personnel of Defense Economics Division 337, also managed by the 4th Military Region.

The division had been assigned to assist five remote communes in Huong Hoa District of Quang Tri, which borders Laos, in mitigating the impacts of prolonged flooding and landslides triggered by abnormally heavy downpours across the central region.

As the mountain collapsed onto their barracks in the first hours of October 19, the 27 division members were all sleeping, with only five managing to escape. Three more landslides buried the remaining 22.

By the afternoon of that day, all 22 bodies had been retrieved.

Luong Thi Ly, who lost her son Le The Linh to the landslide, said she could not believe he and his comrades had lost their lives during peace time.

New flood waves

And as mountainous areas reeled under repeated landslides, urban and coastal areas were hit by a new wave of flooding on October 18 and 20 due to the impact of tropical storms, the intertropical convergence zone and east winds in tandem with water discharged from dam projects.

On October 18, flood peaks recorded on the Hieu River of Quang Tri hit 5.36 m, passing the record level of 1983 by 0.78 m, while the peak on the Thach Han River rose to 7.4 m, 0.11 m higher than the 1999 record. In Quang Binh, floodwaters were measured at 4.88 m on October 19, or 0.97 m higher than the record in 1999.

For the second flood wave, more than 177,000 households in Ha Tinh, Quang Binh and Quang Tri were inundated by floodwaters 1-4 m deep.

Many elderly people in Ha Tinh said for the past 40 years, they had never seen such severe flooding causing such serious damage.

In Quang Binh’s Le Thuy District, a family who lost their 75-year-old grandmother, on October 17, had to hang her coffin from the roof of their house for nearly a week to avoid floodwaters.

Le Thi Trang and her two sons, wearing white headbands to mourn her mother in law and the boys grandmother following Vietnamese traditions, stick their heads out during the funeral as a group of flood relief suppliers pass by their house in Le Thuy District, Quang Binh Province, October 21, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa
Le Thi Trang and her two sons, wearing white headbands to mourn her mother-in-law and the boys’ grandmother, stick their heads out during the funeral as a group of flood relief teams pass their house in Le Thuy District, Quang Binh Province, October 21, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

More storms, floods and landslides

With heavy rains yet to show any signs of receding, Storm Saudel developed in the East Sea on October 20, though it had weakened and turned into a tropical depression as it reached the central coast on October 25.

Two days later, Molave entered the East Sea and headed straight to central Vietnam. It landed over Quang Nam and Quang Ngai provinces on October 28 as the most powerful storm to have hit Vietnam in 20 years.

The storm had inflicted economic damage worth around VND10 trillion ($430.16 million), according to statistics from affected provinces. The loss was nearly 1.5 times higher than 2019’s total natural disaster-induced damage of VND7 trillion ($302.6 million), mostly ascribed to flooding, storms and landslides.

Subsequently, the storm triggered heavy rains that had led to more floods and landslides.

On October 28 alone, two different landslides struck Tra Leng and Tra Van communes in Quang Nam’s Nam Tra My District.

The Tra Van landslide buried 20, killing eight and injuring 12 while in Tra Leng, a mountain collapsed on 53 villagers, with 33 managing to escape, eight confirmed dead, and 12 still missing.

One day later in Phuoc Loc Commune, Phuoc Son District of Quang Nam, another landslide buried 11 victims. Seven have since been confirmed dead and four are still missing.

A survivor of the Tra Leng landslide, Nguyen Thanh Son, 56, had lost his wife to the accident. The bereaved husband cannot believe he has lost his family, house and entire village in the mere blink of an eye.

“Altogether, tumbling soil, mud, rocks, water and trees smashed in the roofs of our houses, sweeping everything away until hitting the foot of another mountain,” Son recalled.

By the night of October 28, more than 4,000 families in Nghe An and Ha Tinh had been evacuated to safety after their neighborhoods had been submerged by up to two meters of water.

The third flood lasted until October 30 and by November 1, had receded.

While central Vietnam residents recuperate from Storm Molave and prior flooding, Storm Goni entered the East Sea on Monday morning, forecast to strike central areas from Da Nang to Phu Yen in the next few days.Video Player is loading.PauseCurrent Time 0:15/Duration 2:11Loaded: 0%Progress: 0%UnmuteFullscreen

Rescuers scramble to find landslide victims in storm-hit central Vietnam.

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